The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJ) has ruled that the creation of temporary copies of copyright works during the process of ordinary internet browsing, does not require the authorisation of copyright holders.

NLA v Meltwalter

In Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) v Meltwater, the UK Supreme Court had referred a number of questions for a preliminary ruling, as to whether various acts involved in the ordinary use of the internet fell within the scope of certain exceptions under the Copyright Directive (also known as the Information Society Directive or InfoSoc Directive).

In particular, the Supreme Court was concerned with the situation where “an end-user views a web-page without downloading, printing or otherwise setting out to make a copy of it”, but where copies are automatically made on-screen and in the cache on the end-user’s computer. As described by the Supreme Court, “the screen copy remains on screen until the end-user moves away from the relevant web-page, when it is automatically deleted by the normal operation of the computer; and the cached copy remains in the cache until it is overwritten by other material as the end-user views further web-pages, when it is automatically deleted by the normal operation of the computer”. Since both of these are inherent functions in web browsing, the importance and far-reaching implications of this decision for European internet users are obvious.

Decision of the CJ

In holding that the relevant exceptions under the InfoSoc Directive were applicable, the CJ concluded that the on-screen and cached copies were temporary, transient or incidental, and were an integral part of the technological process within the meaning of the legislation.

In addition, the CJ was satisfied that the creation of temporary on-screen and cached copies do not conflict with normal exploitation of the copyright works and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of copyright owners.

In this connection, the court’s rationale was that the copies are created only for the purpose of viewing websites.

Since publishers of websites should already obtain the rights holders’ authorisation to make the copyright material available (with, by implication, due reward), there is no justification for requiring internet users to obtain another authorisation allowing them to avail themselves of the same communication as that which has already been authorised.

This ruling will no doubt be welcomed by Meltwater, the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) and the PR sector.

The case will now revert to the UK Supreme Court for a determination of the final chapter in the long-running dispute with the NLA.

Useful link

  1. Full decision of the court.
  2. Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society (Copyright or Information Society Directive).